AUGUSTA, Maine — Elver fishermen urged regulators Tuesday not to increase restrictions on the state’s newly lucrative elver fishery.
More than 100 people attended a public hearing held Tuesday afternoon by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission at the local armory. The hearing was held so the commission could gather public comment on potential changes to the commission’s multistate fishery management plan for American eels. Elvers are juvenile American eels that each spring swim from the Atlantic Ocean into fresh streams, rivers and lakes along the East Coast.
Using data collected prior to 2010, the commission has made a finding that the eels’ population in American waters is depleted.
Fishermen at the hearing said that their catches have been going up in recent years and that the commission needs to gather more data on eel stocks before it makes any decision about setting a seasonal quota for elvers or possibly closing the fishery altogether. Several also said that it is not fair to let other ASMFC member states where elver fishing is banned vote on whether to further restrict Maine’s fishery. Maine and South Carolina are the only two states where elver fishing is allowed, and only 10 licenses are issued in South Carolina. Fishing for other life stages of the eels is allowed in Maine and other states.
Billy Milliken, an elver fisherman from Jonesport, told regulators that his catch has increased every year for the past three years.
“Before you take away our jobs, make sure there’s a basis for it,” Milliken said.
Others at the hearing suggested that the effect of dams on eel migrations and possible management measures such as stocking adult eels upstream should be considered before any further restrictions are placed on Maine’s elver fishery.
One person at the hearing did urge the commission to take action. Mettie Whipple, president of the Eel River Watershed Association in Plymouth, Mass., said there is international concern about the health of eel stocks and that elver fishing is “a major threat” to the survival of the species.
“I do believe the elver fishery should be shut down,” she said.
Whipple’s comments were not well received by others in the audience.
“Why don’t you go back to Massachusetts?” one man shouted at her.
The commission is accepting written comments on possible changes to the fishery through the end of Thursday, May 2. Contact information for commission staff can be found online at www.asmfc.org.